Series: Gone #1
Published by HarperCollins, Katherine Tegen Books on 24 June 2008
Genres: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Young Adult
Pages: 558 (Hardcover)
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In the blink of an eye. Everyone disappears. GONE.
Except for the young. Teens. Middle schoolers. Toddlers. But not one single adult. No teachers, no cops, no doctors, no parents. Just as suddenly, there are no phones, no internet, no television. No way to get help. And no way to figure out what's happened.
Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents--unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers--that grow stronger by the day.
It's a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen, a fight is shaping up. Townies against rich kids. Bullies against the weak. Powerful against powerless. And time is running out: On your birthday, you disappear just like everyone else...
A marvelous first book in what will undoubtedly be an equally marvelous series.
I read Gone several years ago, back when it was the only installment in Michael Grant’s collection of quasi-dystopian, YA literature. By the time that I realized that there were sequels out, four more books had been published and I suddenly found myself far behind. Consequently, I recently decided that it was time that I caught up with the kids of Perdido Beach and their many problems, and so I picked up Gone with the intention of reading all five of the series’ installments before the conclusive Light is released later this year.
Truth be told, I was worried when I started this book. I remember liking it a lot when I first read it all that time ago, but I was also mindful of the fact that I hadn’t been a very thorough reader then. Between then and now, I’ve become much more observant of the little things that make up a novel, and the knowledge that I’ve grown increasingly critical of my reads is something that I see as both a good and bad development. As such, I was afraid that my rereading was going to turn up all kinds of little problems that would greatly lower my enjoyment of the story, despite my already finding the story to be fantastic. To be honest, I rather miss those earlier days, when such things tended to slip by me unnoticed. I know that it certainly improved my chances of enjoying any given book that I read. With my reader’s eye now narrowed and unflinching, I was resigned to the fact that my chances of being disappointed were quite high.
Thankfully, however, Gone manages to be just about as good as I remember. Sure, there are some things that irk me, and they had enough of a presence in my reading experience that I was forced to give this one a relatively mediocre score, rather than the perfect five stars that I had hoped to bestow. But what Grant does right far outshines the little issues, and that makes this book worthwhile, despite its flaws.
Michael Grant is ridiculously creative, and this little fact automatically makes this book a shining beacon in a genre that tends to tell the same stories over and over again. It doesn’t waste any time jumping right into the crazy, with our protagonist witnessing the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of his teacher on the very first page, and doesn’t let up once. Grant throws out new mysteries and developments at a rapid pace, quickly turning what starts out as a relatively straightforward story into a complex and mind-bending experience. New ideas are constantly introduced, while ones that you thought you understood obtain twists that leave you, once more, confused and unsure. Kids develop supernatural abilities. Animals start mutating. I could go on, but I wouldn’t want to ruin any of the fun.
We don’t get any of the usual YA silliness here. No love triangles. No walking stereotypes (for the most part). No predictable turns that are passed off as surprising, despite their complete lack of subtlety or originality. Grant continually pulls out genuine surprises, but not once do they ever feel unnecessary, tacked on, or forced. You get the distinct impression that it all has meaning, some higher purpose that only Grant can presently understand. The author, unlike some, seems to know what he wants and how how he’s going to get it, planning carefully and methodically to ensure that everything has importance.
Bottom line? Gone’s world is bizarre, unorthodox, and altogether packed with awesome.
Because of this, Gone never settles on a uniform tone, and this is an entirely wonderful thing. It has everything that you could possibly want from a YA book because of it. Moments of genuine humor that are laugh-out-loud funny. Moments of touching emotion. Moments of dark maturity that are shocking and profound, due to the fact that these instances of cruelty and sadness solely involve children. These shifts are done naturally and without feeling out-of-place or jarring. Above all, this constantly shifting approach ensures that the book is compelling and entertaining at all times.
Grant’s writing style, though a bit shaky and not without its problems, is tight and altogether clever. It’s simple and easy to read, but has plenty of depth as well, thanks to its more poetic moments. The dialogue is the highlight here, providing the majority of the humor and heart. It reads a bit oddly at times, but this is easy to accept, given that the speakers are all in their early teens, if that. In fact, the grammatical incorrectness of much of the dialogue actually lends a good deal of realism to the characters who speak it.
Because Gone appears to be one of Grant’s first novels, I find it easy to overlook his writing’s less-than-stellar aspects, under the assumption (and hope) that it will improve over time.
Very rarely do the characters feel like clichés. Some may find the antagonists to be far-fetched, given the fact that none are older than fifteen and are nonetheless insanely evil. Are they a bit unrealistic? Perhaps. But Grant pulls it off beautifully, suspending your disbelief and giving you little reason to not invest in the characters.
The protagonists, conversely, may seem a bit too mature and clever for their ages, but, again, the author does wonders in making you believe in them. And by throwing in aspects of striking realism, such as the tears and frustration that intermittently arise from the overwhelming nature of the situation and the loss of all adult influence and sensibility, it’s incredibly easy to root for these kids. Their actions and ideas are sensible, but simultaneously contain that realistic undercurrent of naivety and innocence that can be heartbreaking.
And, who knows? I certainly don’t know of any children who have been put into this kind of situation, and I never will. Perhaps these kids’ actions aren’t that far-fetched. Could preteens really be capable of these sorts of mindsets, if forced into an extreme enough scenario? It’s an interesting, and disturbing, thing to consider.
The Romance & Relationships
Romance plays a very small role in this book, with the majority of it being centered on Sam and Astrid’s budding relationship. Other characters show hints of affection, but these feelings are given very little attention. And, you know what? That’s perfectly okay. In fact, it’s refreshing to have a story that isn’t bogged down by melodramatic scenarios of unrequited love and behavior that borderlines on abuse. The central romance is sweet, healthy, and realistically portrayed, while the secondary ones, despite their lack of page-time, are believable, even when they seem rather silly and shallow. Why? Because this is a story about children, and their relationships work that way. It’s easy to accept these kinds of feelings when they’re coming from people who are too young to know any better.
While the work overall is be very consistent, there are several moments within it that are contradictory, and events can become altogether confusing as a result. Several portions required me to “read between the lines” and create my own explanations to maintain continuity and acceptability. Most of these instances ended up working out, though whether this was due to my desire to impose logic on something that had none, or the actual intention and skill of the author, I cannot say. Perhaps I was simply making up excuses to resolve genuine errors. I’ll pretend, though, that the latter possibility is the correct one.
While the writing works as a whole, it does have its problematic moments. Some passages are extremely simplistic, to the point that they sound annoyingly childish, and frustrating repetition is oftentimes present. It’s also rather vague at times, particularly during the action sequences. These, for me at least, required several rereadings before they fully made sense, which slowed down my progress and repeatedly pulled me out of the narrative as a result.
Those last two points were what kept me from giving Gone a perfect score, small as they may seem. Both issues are pet peeves of mine, hence the rather severe rating. Still, Grant’s first installment in his defining series is all-around fantastic, and far better than most of the drivel that passes for contemporary YA. I get the feeling that this will be one of those works that only improves, both in form (à la the writing) and substance (à la the story and its characters), as it expands.
As a result, I now eagerly turn to Hunger for the next chapter of this tale. Bravo, Grant. Bravo.
The Score So Far
I’ll be keeping a running list of the series as I read, in which I rank each installment from best to worst. Which book will take the number one spot in the end? Place your bets!
1. Gone (3 1/2 stars)